Every priest who works in the church in the Diocese of North Carolina should be made eligible for periodic extended "Sabbath leaves." in addition to weekly and annual Sabbath times. Clergy need such times so that they can disengage from their regular tasks and from the stress of being constantly on call, ministering to the sick and dying, and dealing with any number of stressful situations. Such extended Sabbath leaves should be understood in the context of the biblical concept of the sabbatical year, a time apart for rest, reflection and re-creation. It is not primarily a time for intense productivity or other self-justifying activity.
The benefits of such a time for the clergy are refreshment of the mind and spirit, growth in personal commitment and spiritual awareness, a renewed vision, and rededication to the work setting. In the case of congregations, it would also provide the experience of different lay and ordained leadership as well as an opportunity to reflect in a new way on the ministry and mission of the parish and the meaning of Sabbath itself.
This sabbatical policy should be incorporated into every call to ministry. Such a call should set forth the conditions under which a sabbatical would be earned, the criteria for activities appropriate to the sabbatical, and the obligation of the parish or other agency to provide for coverage of the priest's duties during his/her absence.
LENGTH OF SERVICE
The period of service prior to eligibility may vary according to the number of years ordained, the amount of time since the last previous sabbatical, or other particular considerations. An appropriate norm might be a three-to-six-month extended Sabbath leave after five to seven years of service. Alternatively, one month (or some other definite amount of time) might be provided for each year of service.
The extended Sabbath leave may be focused on such goals as broadening experience, shaping or expanding one's perception of mission and ministry, understanding current developments in church and/or society, providing for personal or spiritual renewal. Activities might include directed reading and study, participation in continuing education events or academic programs, action/reflection opportunities, pilgrimages, contemplative prayer, retreats, interviews, and taking time for rest and recreation.
PROVISION OF PASTORAL SERVICES
During the extended Sabbath leave, a congregation might use any specially trained counselors within the congregation for pastoral counseling. Training can also be provided for laity in the skills required for pastoral care and visitation, including the development of teams of experienced lay persons for such key areas as bereavement, sickness, marital support, pre-baptismal and pre-marital preparation, etc. Arrangements can be made with available clergy to perform necessary sacerdotal functions.
FINANCING THE EXTENDED SABBATH LEAVE
a) An extended Sabbath leave of three to six months may be provided in addition to the regular four-week vacation and two-week period of continuing education for the year. In this case the parish of other church agency would provide fully for supply or interim priest as appropriate.
b) In cases where the above is not feasible, a Sabbath leave of three months might be provided, which includes the four weeks of vacation plus the two weeks of continuing education leave.
c) For congregations below some agreed-upon annual income, the Diocese might arrange for the compensation of supply clergy for those services not provided by lay leadership during the time of the extended Sabbath leave.
d) Diocesan continuing education funds might be used, where appropriate, to help clergy with their Sabbath leave expenses. Some interest from capital funds might also be allocated for this purpose.
e) Congregations and other church agencies employing clergy should include the anticipated sabbatical in their financial planning by setting aside some fund each year. In that way, resources will be available to help meet the special expenses that will incurred the year the extended Sabbath leave actually occurs.
Planning for the extended Sabbath leave should begin a year before it is scheduled to occur. A sabbatical planning committee of supportive lay people should be appointed to meet with clergy and spouse to think through various aspects of preparation: purposes, parish readiness and planning, interim arrangements, staff and other leadership responsibilities and support, clergy-congregation contact during the sabbatical, and re-entry after the leave is completed. A written agreement between clergy and vestry (and possibly with the supply clergy as well) can be useful in recording and publicizing the arrangements that result from these dialogues, for the benefit of the congregation.
Consultation help will be particularly useful in the planning and re-entry process. Such help can be obtained through the North Carolina Church Consultants Network. The cost of consultative help could be considered a part of the sabbatical expense. Such costs can be minimized by having the clients(s) travel to meet with the consultant. Clergy who have had sabbatical experience themselves can also be helpful to the extent that they can assist in identifying possible issues without imposing their own agenda on the clients. Consultants can be especially useful in thinking through the re-entry process, which requires careful advance planning to identify anticipated issues such as role changes, new expectations, new learnings, current concerns, and new directions that have emerged during the Sabbath leave. Renegotiation of roles and expectations is an important aspect of the re-entry process.
Useful information on the extended Sabbath leave can be obtained from:
The Alban Institute
4125 Nebraska Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20016
or see: Sabbath Time by Tilden Edwards